Aye, there's the shrub


UP UNTIL a few decades ago any gardener worth his or her salt would have agreed that shrubs were an essential ingredient of almost any great garden.

But then along came the New Perennial movement in the 1990s as championed by the Dutch nurseryman Piet Oudolf, and any such conventions were abruptly swept aside. All of a sudden, boldly colourful drifts of herbaceous perennials and grasses were all the rage, and shrubs fell out of fashion.

And yet, as any good nurseryman will confirm, these woody, long-lived plants can bring structure, texture, form, scent, foliage and flower interest to a garden in a way that no other group of plants can. Which is why, with the prime shrub-planting season almost upon us, I asked some of the country’s most knowledgeable plantspeople to name their favourite shrub. That it was an almost impossible task to limit themselves to choosing just one is proof that the revival of this overlooked group of plants is long overdue.

Verney Naylor, one of Ireland’s most respected garden designers (see glda.ie): “Hamamelis mollis – because it flowers at Christmas – or H ‘Jelena’, because I love its burnt orange flowers. Buddleja davidii because it is covered with butterflies in the summer, and Corylopsis pauciflora, because it is such a good all-round small shrub that never looks garish or out of place. I love its delicate, pale-yellow, dangling flowers on the bare branches in March, its glowing, butter-yellow leaves in the autumn and its twiggy refined shapeliness even when it has no leaves.”

Robert Miller, nurseryman and owner of Altamont Plant Sales, Altamont, Co Carlow:

“A favourite would be Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’, which produces these wonderful cherry-blossom flowers in February/March and gives great autumn colour from August through to November. It’s compact too, growing to a height and spread of only 4-5ft (1.2-1.5m), so it’s suitable for a smaller garden.”

Patricia Tyrrell, Dublin-based horticulturist and award-winning landscape architect (see glda.ie): “When I was a student in the early 1980s, I stayed with Andree Sheehy Skeffington (widow of Owen Sheehy Skeffington) in Terenure. She lived alone in a quaint old cottage surrounded by a large garden and I did some garden maintenance in return for accommodation. She was a very keen plantswoman and I can still hear her pronounce the names of plants in her distinctive French accent.

“Philadelphus microphyllus grew by the path to the front door and its pineapple scent was exquisite, also much loved by bees. After searching for it for years and years, I was so happy when I finally found it for sale earlier this year.”

Sarah Evans, co-owner of the award-winning Secret Garden Centre, Kanturk, north Cork (see thesecretgardener.com): “Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’ – what’s not to love about this shrub? It has a neat, upright habit, tough and undemanding, it’s a strong grower – mine has easily reached 9ft. Young maple-like leaves are purple-bronze, maturing to green and then reverting to purple in the autumn before the leaves fall. The lacecap flowers, produced in late spring, have deep-red buds with white sterile florets, followed by red berries. Pure class!”

Seamus O Donnell, nurseryman, designer and owner of Cluain na dTor Gardens in Donegal (see seasideplants.net): “Pittosporum tobira – my reason being that it’s a fine architectural plant that can be trained as a small tree, clipped as a hedge or left as a shapely shrub. It’s suitable for either sun or partial shade (where the foliage becomes larger and glossier) and [shows] a fair degree of salt-resistance. Most importantly it’s the exotic scent that takes me away!”

June Blake, Wicklow-based designer and nursery owner (see juneblake.ie): “Without a doubt, Rhamnus frangula ‘Asplenifolia’. Its elegant, fine-cut foliage always looks good and turns a lovely buttery-yellow shade in autumn.

“Hydrangea paniculata ‘Early Sensation’ is another great shrub. Its flowers begin as lime green and go through this wonderful progression of colour, ending up a deep rose-pink.

“Cotinus ‘Grace’ is another of my favourites. It has these large, translucent leaves that glow orange in sunlight and doesn’t mind being cut back hard every year to keep it compact.”

Oliver Schurmann, garden designer and co-owner of the Dublin-based Mount Venus Nursery (see mountvenusnursery.com): “Lonicera infundibulum var. rockii (also known as L elisae) – a winter-flowering shrub with long, flared, pink-flushed, primrose-yellow scented pendant flowers from as early as January, before the purple-tinted leaves appear, later turning green with new shoots in contrasting purple. It’s totally hardy and easy to grow in any normal garden soil, reaches up to 2m with an arching habit, tolerates shade and enjoys a bit of sunshine.”

Tim Leahy, co-owner of long-established wholesale plant nursery TM Leahy in Kilkenny (see leahynurseries.com): “Viburnum plicatum ‘Shasta’, because of its architectural value and its fabulous white lace-cap flowers that appear in early summer, followed by colourful fruits and great autumn foliage.

“Myrtus ugni is another wonderful shrub, with scented flowers and foliage – and edible berries that smell of strawberries. I’ve used them to make a kind of pink gin that’s so delicious you’d be tempted to drink it neat!”

Date for the diary

This year’s Planthunter’s Seminar takes place in Mount Stewart Gardens,

Co Down, on September 21st and 22nd. Price £65. Booking essential: tel 048- 42788387. Fota House Autumn Garden Seminar is on September 29th. Tickets: €50 (€62 with lunch). Booking essential. Call 021-481 5543.

Also, National Organic Week runs from September 10th-16th

(see organic-trust.orgevents listings)

In the garden this week:

Order spring-flowering bulbs; Take cuttings of  evergreen shrubs

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